Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ begins stage production in Japan

Chihiro and Haku’s friendship comes to life in Caird’s take on the award-winning animated film

MANILA, Philippines Studio Ghibli classic Spirited Away now has its first-ever stage play production, in celebration of Toho Stage’s 90th anniversary.

Two decades after the film first came out in 2001, the theatrical production began showing at Imperial Theater Tokyo on March 2 and will last until March 29. It will then tour Osaka, Fukuoka, Sapporo, and Nagoya until July.

Among the 40-member cast are Kanna Hashimoto and Mone Kamishiraishi, who play Chihiro in alternating performances. Most of the characters are double-cast, including river spirit Haku, portrayed by Kotaro Daigo and Hiroki Miura. Yubaba and Zeniba, the twin witches, are played by Romi Park and Mari Natsuki – who voiced the characters in the original film.

The first-look photos were released by Toby Olié, the puppetry designer and director of the stage play.

“Adapting the limitless imagination of Hayao Miyazaki’s iconic animation for the stage was both a monumental joy & challenge,” Toby wrote in his caption.

The photos included iconic scenes, such as Chihiro’s train ride with No-Face and the bathhouse.

The production did not fall short in bringing the same life and color as the animated film, which was a challenge considering its visuals and wild designs. Toby’s puppets lived up to Miyazaki’s original fantastical creatures and characters.

Les Miserables director and honorary Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company John Caird led the adaptation. In a statement, he said he was excited and honored to be involved in the first stage play of Spirited Away.

“For a long time, Hayao Miyazaki has been considered an outstanding genius in the film world and the greatest advocate in the field of animation. I am in tune with all the main themes of Miyazaki’s work. I’ve already spent thousands of hours on Spirited Away and I can’t wait to spend thousands of hours in the future,” Caird said.

In a tweet, the director also mentioned the struggles of producing a show amid the pandemic, citing the long hours they had gone through working from the UK and the US on Zoom.

“All our non-Japanese creative partners had to work from the UK and the US on Zoom, getting up at all hours of the night and day to attend rehearsals and previews and still managing to make magic with their extraordinary talents,” he wrote.

Spirited Away made history as the first and only film from Studio Ghibli to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture. (READ: ‘Totoro,’ ‘Spirited Away’ and more: Your guide to all Studio Ghibli films)

When the production was first announced early in 2021, Spirited Away producer, Toshio Suzuki, said they trusted Caird to bring Chihiro to life.

“We, Hayao and I, both liked John’s vision. He is a person we can trust. I am looking forward to seeing Chihiro grow on stage under his direction. I could tell how much he adores this story from his delighted face when I gave him a No-Face (Kaonashi) piggy-bank,” Suzuki said.

Spirited Away follows the story of Chihiro, a 10-year-old moving with her parents in the suburbs, who soon gets lost in a mysterious world of supernatural creatures led by the sorceress Yubaba. When her parents turned into pigs, strange happenings followed.

There are no announcements yet about the play’s run outside Japan. Tickets are sold at Toho’s official website. – with reports from Euna Regaspi/Rappler.com

Euna Regaspi is a Rappler intern under the Life & Style and Entertainment section.

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